Guest Post: Colorado’s toughest-in-the-nation air quality regulations are working

A response to The Story Group's report that air quality is declining under the state's watch

Oil and gas development in new housing subdivision on Collier's Hill. (Photo by Ted Wood/The Story Group.)
Oil and gas development on Collier's Hill in Erie. (Photo by Ted Wood/The Story Group.)

There is much to dispute within Daniel Glick’s story, but let’s begin here: Our air quality conditions in Colorado are not worsening. In fact, according to our state health department, our air quality is getting better, despite the challenges associated with Colorado’s growing population.

Furthermore, while leaks may occur in the oil and natural gas field, that is exactly why Colorado’s first-in-the-nation air rules were put in place in 2014, requiring leak detection and repair practices and requiring operators to install technology that captures 95% of emissions. Those rules, combined with industry practices and technology innovations, have resulted in a 50% reduction in VOCs since 2011 alone. That is a tremendous success story. A success story that carries even more weight when coupled with the fact that oil production quadrupled statewide within that same timeframe, proving that responsible energy development and environmental protection can coexist.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Writer Dan Glick responds below 

I will agree that Colorado is facing a unique challenge in further reducing its ozone formation. However, the details matter. According to Regional Air Quality Council data, during high ozone days along Colorado’s Front Range, emission transport from outside the state can range from 73% to 83% of the total. Our topography and weather patterns contribute to this dynamic. Both state and regional agencies have conducted sophisticated modeling to demonstrate that the Colorado non-attainment area would have met the 2008 ozone standard but for emissions emanating from outside the United States. Colorado has met previous air quality standards over time, which has contributed to our improved air quality, but as EPA standards themselves ratcheted down even further, it will require bold thinking and creative policy solutions that are much broader than any one industry.

This industry is a committed stakeholder in the state health department’s taskforce efforts around pneumatic devices and the Statewide Hydrocarbon Emission Reduction program. Our companies are also stepping up outside of the regulatory sphere, as many deploy voluntary measures that are unique to their particular operations during the summer ozone season, in order to try and combat the state’s challenging ozone dynamics.

While seemingly dismissed by Daniel Glick and referred to as almost inconsequential, Colorado does maintain the toughest regulations in the country. That was the case before Senate Bill 181 was signed into law by Governor Polis, and that will certainly remain the case going forward, as the bill directs new regulatory rulemakings on over a dozen different topics that will take years to complete.

As those rules are formulated and ultimately implemented, you can count on Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry to be an active and responsible party to the discussion.

The Colorado Independent occasionally runs guest posts from government officials, local experts and concerned citizens on a variety of topics. These posts are meant to provide diverse perspectives and do not represent the views of The Independent. To pitch a guest post, please contact or visit our submission page.

 Dan Glick responds:

Mr. Haley willfully ignores and/or misrepresents the vast body of federal and independent university findings when he asserts that Colorado’s “air quality is getting better, despite the challenges associated with Colorado’s growing population.” Tellingly, Haley cites only state health department measurements of dangerous ozone emissions levels – the methodology behind which multiple independent scientists have challenged. To the contrary, Colorado’s air quality has been so consistently bad ­– and has been getting worse – that the federal Environmental Protection Agency concluded that the state is now in “serious” non-attainment of federal clean air laws. Gov. Polis agreed, and rescinded a Hickenlooper-era challenge to that designation by saying that “There’s too much smog in our air, and instead of hiding behind bureaucracy and paperwork that delay action, we are moving forward to make our air cleaner now.”

The figures that Haley quotes that suggest air quality is getting better, and that emissions from “outside the state” are responsible for pushing us over a more stringent limit imposed by the EPA, simply do not bear up to scientific scrutiny. Multiple independent scientists have challenged the state’s methodology for determining the emission levels, which in any case are largely based on self-reporting by the oil and gas industry based on their estimates of emissions. Federal and university scientists have repeatedly presented data to state officials indicating that actual emissions of chemicals that are the building blocks of smog may be more than twice as high.

As the article also points out in some detail, the state has been overwhelmed by the rapid increase in oil and gas activity over the past decade, and does not have enough inspectors to verify these emission and control numbers that industry reports, including the rule to “capture 95% of emissions.” There has been no independent verification that those “capture” rates are being accomplished in real-world conditions, and the state acknowledges that there are many periods during the life of many oil and gas wells when emissions are neither monitored nor regulated.

Mr. Haley is correct in stating that the oil and gas industry is not responsible for all of our smog problems, but it remains a significant contributor to the fact that on average of once a week, Coloradans along the Front Range area are warned not to exercise outdoors. We are all left wondering why our air quality is worsening enough so the EPA had to step in and compel us to do better.

Daniel Glick
The Story Group


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